In one corner of Minneapolis, a glut of pent-up political ambition and liberal activism is on full display — and is likely a harbinger of upcoming legislative races in 2020.
Twelve candidates are trying to stand out from the like-minded pack competing to represent a district made up mostly of northeast Minneapolis in the Minnesota House. A special-election primary Tuesday will likely determine who wins the seat previously held for 15 years by Rep. Diane Loeffler, who died in November.
The legislative hopefuls are emphasizing progressive values such as universal health care and environmental protection as they hope to win over the deep blue district and head to the State Capitol when the session starts in February.
It’s a scene that will likely play out again in other heavily Democratic districts around the metro area, as several longtime DFL legislators plan to retire at the end of this year. Among them are Rep. Jean Wagenius, who has held a seat in southeast Minneapolis and Richfield for 33 years, and Rep. Tim Mahoney, who has represented St. Paul’s East Side for two decades. In those districts, the real battle will be the August primary.
But, in many ways, the race for District 60A in Minneapolis is unique. The area is home to a lot of recent University of Minnesota graduates, and the candidate field trends much younger — and more outspokenly liberal — than the average Minnesota legislator. Then there’s the frantic special election time frame: The candidates have just two months to distinguish themselves.
Candidates have sent out mailers, text messages and Instagram videos as they try to alert their neighbors that there’s an offseason race.
During a recent event at Sociable Cider Werks, a number of common themes emerged as the dozen northeast Minneapolis residents stepped onto the small stage. Protecting and adding affordable housing was a frequent refrain in a community that’s seen a steep jump in housing prices in recent years. Candidates also talked about supporting Democratic Sen. John Marty’s Medicare for All bill and opposing mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Each candidate had just a few minutes to race through a pitch. With so many shared policy priorities, a number of the candidates briefly touched on what they would fight for but spent more time focusing on how their backgrounds and experience would influence their work at the Capitol.
As the co-founder of the nonprofit Ummah Project that works with Somali youth, Saciido Shaie pitched herself as the candidate who “can bridge the gap between our neighborhoods and our cultures.” She also said she would fight for a $15 minimum wage statewide.
Sydney Jordan is one of the many University of Minnesota graduates who have remained in the neighborhood. Since graduating in 2013, she has worked as an organizer and director for various political groups and campaigns. She highlighted her numerous union endorsements and described herself as “staunchly pro-union,” “anti-racist” and “pro-abortion.”
Former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Aswar Rahman talked about growing up in Northeast and losing his family’s home and business to gentrification.
“I’m all for development. I’m completely against displacement. My job as your state representative would be to make sure that not one more family in northeast Minneapolis loses their home or livelihood,” he said.
Amal Ibrahim, an interpreter who speaks five languages, talked about her past activism on the DREAM Act, the Obama-era rule protecting immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors. As a student in California, she also worked on efforts to lower tuition. Her priorities now are free college tuition, rent control and universal health care.
Others, like attorney and Minnesota Tool Library co-founder Zachary Wefel, focused on local issues. He described how he helped add a needed crosswalk, and said he would push for safe streets and advocate for “Eastsiders.”
Of the crowded field, all but one of the candidates are running as DFL members, making Tuesday’s primary contest critical. The winner will be up against Legalize Marijuana Now Party candidate Marty Super in the general special election on Feb. 4. There is no Republican in the race.
The race for Loeffler’s old seat is one of two special elections this winter. Republican Paul Novotny won a two-person primary Tuesday for the District 30A seat previously held by Rep. Nick Zerwas, who resigned and became a lobbyist at the Capitol. Novotny, a longtime member of the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office, was endorsed by the state Republican Party. He will compete to represent the historically Republican community in the Feb. 4 race against DFL candidate Chad Hobot.
The state DFL Party has endorsed Hobot but is waiting until after the primary to support a candidate in the northeast Minneapolis race.